It might have been the Jan. 8 game at St. Augustine, when Wildwood Catholic beat the Hermits on their home court by 23 points.
Or the Jan. 26 game vs. Cherokee at the Jeff Coney Classic at Rancocas Valley, when Wildwood Catholic rallied from a 15-point deficit after three quarters to beat the future South Jersey Group 4 champions in overtime.
Or the March 6 game against eventual Tournament of Champions winner Ranney School, when Wildwood Catholic pushed the consensus No. 1 team in the state to the brink in an overtime loss.
Any of those, plus lots of other special moments – like the overtime win in the tiny gym at St. Joseph, the narrow escape vs. eventual Group 3 state champion Moorestown, the capture of a second straight Cape Atlantic League title with another victory over rival St. Augustine – might have stamped Wildwood Catholic as the best team in South Jersey this season.
Coach Dave DeWeese points to the 12-point win over Patrick School on Jan. 6 at the Seagull Classic at Holy Spirit.
“Our kids dominated that game,” DeWeese said. “They really controlled the game and they walked away from that game believing there wasn’t another team that they couldn’t beat.”
The Crusaders were right about that. Playing perhaps the most challenging schedule in program history, Wildwood Catholic went 27-2 to earn the nod as the Team of the Year in South Jersey boys’ basketball.
“They far exceed my expectations,” DeWeese said. “When I put this schedule together, I knew it was going to be challenging, but they handled it far better than I thought they would.”
DeWeese and his coaches all made preseason predictions on Wildwood Catholic’s record. Nobody had the Crusaders at 25-1 after a regular season that included nine games against teams that finished in the Inquirer South Jersey Top 10, plus two more vs. No. 11 St. Joseph and battles with out-of-area powers such as Trenton, Archbishop Carroll, Patrick School, Plainfield and Paterson Kennedy.
In the Non-Public South B tournament, Wildwood Catholic beat Holy Spirit and Immaculata before falling 54-50 in overtime to Ranney School in an instant classic in the sectional final before a packed house at Jackson Liberty.
Ranney School, which featured seniors such as Villanova recruit Bryan Antoine and Florida recruit Scottie Lewis, went on to capture the Non-Public B state title with a win over Roselle Catholic, then seized the Tournament of Champions title Sunday at Rutgers with a victory over Non-Public A champion Bergen Catholic.
“That game still stings because we felt like if we could have gotten past Ranney, we would have ended up where Ranney ended up,” DeWeese said. “After that game, their coach told me nobody played them like we played them.”
Moorestown (28-6) used a remarkable run to the Group 3 state title, the program’s first state crown in 60 years, plus a victory over Group 2 state champion Haddonfield in the Tournament of Champions to vault to No. 2 in the final rankings.
Haddonfield (31-2), which tied a school record for victories in a season, landed in the No. 3 spot. Camden Catholic (26-4), which won its second straight Non-Public South A crown by beating rival Paul VI before falling to Bergen Catholic in the state final, took the No. 4 spot.
Paul VI (25-4) finished at No. 5 while St. Augustine (22-5) was No. 6 and Group 4 sectional champion Cherokee (22-9) was No. 7.
Camden (17-10), which pushed Haddonfield to the limit in an overtime loss in the South Jersey Group 2 final, along with South Jersey Group 4 finalist Millville (23-7) and Pleasantville (20-9) round out the Top 10.
Wildwood Catholic was led by junior swingman Taj Thweatt along with junior guards Jahlil White and Jacob Hopping and sophomore guard DeSean Lopez. Senior Jake McGonigle, the lone senior in the regular rotation, was a savvy point guard who specialized in passing and defense.
“The big thing with this group was that they are all very close on and off the court,” DeWeese said. “They are best of friends outside of basketball, and that chemistry is huge.”
With most of its key players set to return next season, Wildwood Catholic looms as a team that, on paper, could challenge many of the North Jersey powerhouse non-public programs for overall state supremacy.
DeWeese knows his team could be capable of something special next season. But the coach knows this season was one for the books.
“I told the guys, ‘This doesn’t happen every year,’” DeWeese said. “We had one of those years where we didn’t really have any major injuries and we won a lot of close games. That doesn’t always happen.”
(Previous rank in parentheses)
1. Wildwood Catholic (1) 27-2
2. Moorestown (7) 28-6
3. Haddonfield (3) 31-2
4. Camden Catholic (4) 26-4
5. Paul VI (3) 25-4
6. St. Augustine (5) 22-5
7. Cherokee (9) 22-9
8. Camden (6) 17-10
9. Millville (12) 23-7
10. Pleasantville (8) 20-9